‘No Cover-up’ - Seventh-day Adventists vow to report child molesters and other criminals who might be in their ranks
The leadership of the local Seventh-day Adventist Church has vowed that they will not cover up instances where their members are involved in illegal activities, such as molesting children or abusing their spouses.
For decades, the Christian community has been accused of shielding members involved in criminal acts, with the Catholic Church in particular being accused of covering up instances where senior members have molested children.
But president of the Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Everett Brown, says under his administration pastors and congregants have been instructed not to cover up crimes, especially against children.
"We have told our pastors that, listen, the time for hiding is over - you have a legal responsibility to do this," Brown stated during a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Wednesday.
He argued that his position on this issue is strengthened by The Child Care and Protection Act which places an obligation on persons who have information that cause them to suspect that a child has been, is being or is likely to be abandoned, neglected or physically or sexually ill-treated to make a report to the police.
"I believe that as pastors we have a role for reconciliation and counselling, but abuse is abuse - my position - we ought not to, in the name of religion, cover up illegal activities," the senior clergyman insisted.
Brown told The Sunday Gleaner that the church has, through its education process, spoken to its pastors, telling them they have the responsibility to abide by the law.
He declared that if a child is abused and this was brought to the attention of church leaders, they have a duty to report it to the police.
Some persons who have committed crimes or have 'sinned' and have taken steps to be 'saved' may feel compelled to confess their wrongdoing to religious leaders with the hope that these persons would pray for them by asking God to forgive them of the offences they had committed.
While acknowledging the role of pastors in providing counselling to persons who may have run afoul of the law, Brown reasoned that the offender should be told that if he/she has committed a crime, particularly against a child, the matter would be reported to the authorities.
In the meantime, Dr Lorraine Vernal, director of Family, Women's and Children's Ministries in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, reiterated the importance of protecting "our children".
According to Vernal, she uses every opportunity to remind church leaders and members that if they receive information about crimes against children they are obligated to report it.
One of the programmes the church has rolled out to help tackle the scourge of crime against women and children is called 'End it Now', which is the short version of 'End Violence Against Women and Girls Now'.
This year, the Seventh-day Adventists will stage an End it Now summit at the West Jamaica Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Mount Salem, Montego, St James.
Vernal said that during the summit, discussions will be held on the topics 'Abuse Against Men' and 'Abuse Against Persons with Special Needs'.
The decision of the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to disclose instances of child abuse has been welcomed by Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison.
Gordon Harrison commended the church for the proactive approach being taken in sensitising its members about a serious problem that manifests itself across the society, including the church, and one which should be reported to the authorities.
She told The Sunday Gleaner that she has made presentations at the Seventh-day Adventist-run Northern Caribbean University and churches in the denomination, sensitising members about their responsibility under the Child Care and Protection Act.
"I want to go on record to 'big them up', as we would say, for taking that very proactive and strident approach," added Gordon Harrison.
She confirmed that reports of child abuse in the church have not ceased, but noted that there were several factors that militate against the investigative process.
"We still have some complainants who will say that this happened, but when you sit down with them to take a statement from them the story isn't as detailed or the story is a little bit changed.
"Sometimes we do have the fear element or at times the complainant's parents have been reached and have been persuaded not to go further with the matter. It is a part of the general landscape of problems that investigators have with all types of matters," said Gordon Harrison.
In a Gleaner interview last year, Gordon Harrison noted that senior members of the clergy had informed her of sexual abuse against children in the church.
"We have received reports in relation to deacons, elders and prayer warriors," the Children's Advocate reported.
Under the headline 'Hush!' The Sunday Gleaner also reported that many women in the church had been suffering in silence while being abused by men of the cloth.
At the time, influential members of the local Christian community expressed concern that domestic violence in the church is a problem that is widely under-reported, as the mainly men who are doing the beating and the mainly women who are being beaten remain quiet.